Celebrating its 21st year, the Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament is all set for Saturday, with hooks in the water at 9 a.m., out of the water by 4 p.m. and fish weighed at the Coal Point tournament headquarters on the Spit by 6 p.m.
“We’re really excited that it’s going to be a great event,” said Jim Lavrakas, executive director of the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, event sponsor. “Of course, we’re always having to pray to the weather gods.”
As of Tuesday, the National Weather Service was giving a favorable Saturday forecast of variable winds less than 10 knots and seas of two feet for Kachemak Bay. However, should conditions deteriorate, Lavrakas has a back-up plan ready.
“If it’s a blowout on Saturday morning, the committee makes a determination by 7 a.m. at the latest, and it would be postponed to the next day, March 23,” said Lavrakas. “If that’s a blow-out day, then we have one more weekend to try to put it on.”
Several offerings have been added to this year’s event, including a category for kayaks, which is good news to anglers like Rudy Tatsuda, a former Kenai resident now living in Anchorage.
“The kayak is the perfect platform that one person can load and launch and it’s perfectly seaworthy,” said Tatsuda, who claims fishing from a kayak is easier than from a powerboat. “A fish fights back a lot harder the more pressure you put on it, but it just pulls a kayak or comes to you. It’s actually much easier to net in the water. … The hardest part is when you get it (the salmon) into the kayak.”
Tatsuda and other kayakers typically use fish finders and downriggers.
“What sets them (the kayaks) apart is that they’re peddle-driven, not paddle driven,” said Tatsuda. “That’s a huge advantage for all-day trolling. Being hands-free allows you to operate your line and you’re a lot less susceptible to wind every time you lift your paddle up.”
Also new this year is a “champion’s vest” ceremony, similar to the green jacket awarded to golfers winning The Masters. The vest has been created and donated by NOMAR.
“It is our Galeforce gillnetter vest in cranberry red with the tournament logo on it,” said NOMAR’s Kate Mitchell.
A vest-awarding ceremony will be held at the Coal Point weigh-in station as soon as the top 20 derby fish are announced, which will help minimize wait time for anglers eager to hear results. A live video feed of the weigh-in also will keep the crowd informed of what’s happening. Every 10-15 minutes, a chalkboard will be visible on the chamber’s new 50-inch flat screen announcing the current fish in 20th place, with the scales and weights discretely kept from view.
“One complaint we got from folks was that there was a lot of standing around time,” said Lavrakas. “You can only shoot the bull so long, so if you can watch the weigh-in, how cool is that?”
As in past years, food will be available at the weigh-in station, although this year’s selection is smaller than past years.
“We’re doing seafood chowder from Land’s End, dinner rolls and beer,” said Lavrakas.
Every 15 minutes throughout the day, “bellringer prizes” will be announced over VHF channel 69, with anglers’ names randomly chosen.
“We have great lodging, fishing and outdoor gear from our sponsors,” said Lavrakas of more than $15,000 worth of prizes already gathered by Meldonna “Mel” Cody, the chamber’s events coordinator.
Other prizes include a double “King Me” raffle, with the holder of the first $10 ticket drawn choosing between two adult Denali Star GoldStar Service roundtrips between Anchorage and Fairbanks on the Alaska Railroad and two round-trip tickets between Homer and Anchorage on Ravn Alaska. The holder of the second ticket drawn wins the remaining ticket. A split-the-pot raffle also will be held, with tickets available from individuals wearing yellow vests at the weigh-in site.
For the second year, Café Cups is sponsoring a $250 prize for the largest white king caught during the tournament. Last year’s winning fish weighed 25.24 pounds.
For anglers who manage to capture the day’s fun on video, a YouTube contest has been organized. Videos can be posted at #20homerwinterking.
“We’ll have that until May 15 and then pick a winner and send them a tournament sweatshirt, hat and pin,” said Lavrakas.
Side bets also are available this year and can be made at either the chamber or at Coal Point. In order to save time, the side-bet winners will be announced the Monday following the tournament.
“That’s the thing that slows things down because you have to triple check those,” said Lavrakas. “It’s a game of chance, and this kind of betting has to be really, really accounted for, so it takes an extra hour and a half to do it.”
The tournament entry fee is $100 per person. Online registration ended Wednesday, but remains open at the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center through Friday and from 6-9 a.m. the morning of the tournament at Coal Point.
Launching at the harbor is free for the tournament. One night of mooring in the harbor also is free with a coupon provided by the chamber.
“When I lived in Anchorage, I came down (for the tournament), so for the past 12 years or so, I maybe missed two tournaments. I thought it was one of the coolest events that I’d ever experienced,” said Lavrakas, who became the chamber’s executive director in May 2013. “I never thought I’d be running it, so this is really exciting. I’m happy to be working here and be part of this super event.”
For more information, including tournament rules, visit homeralaska.org.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.